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With parent demand surging, 20 charters seeking to expand in Philadelphia

By by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on Mar 20, 2013 04:44 PM
Photo: Benjamin Herold

Parent Chrissy Poper hoped to find a seat for her 8-year old daughter Abigail at the popular MaST Community Charter School in Northeast Philadelphia.


Chrissy Poper has been trying to get her 8-year old daughter into the popular MaST Community Charter School in Northeast Philadelphia for the last three years.

But with parent demand far outpacing the number of available seats at the school, Poper has been left to play some very long odds.

"I put applications in for her in kindergarten, first, and second grade," Poper said.

"She just hasn't hit the lottery yet."

Listen to Benjamin Herold's WHYY radio report.


This year, Poper was among the hundreds of families to show up in person for MaST's enrollment lottery, held Tuesday afternoon in the school auditorium. The chances of winning were slimmer than ever. All told, said MaST CEO John Swoyer, the school received 5,782 applications for just 140 openings.

Poper was disappointed to learn that Abigail wouldn't even get a shot; 498 families applied for third grade at MaST, where no open seats were available.

"Very bummed," said Poper, on her way out the door.

Like many city charter schools hoping to serve more of the families clamoring at their classroom doors, MaST wants to grow. The school is one of 20 Philadelphia charters that have filed an application to expand with the School District as part of this year's charter renewal and modification process.

But although the District says it wants to add "high-quality seats," regardless of whether they're in traditional public schools or in taxpayer-funded, independently managed charters, money will almost certainly be an obstacle. MaST's expansion request alone, for more than 2,000 new students at another location, would cost the District as much as $17 million per year. That is a huge sum for a District that just decided to close 23 of its own schools and is still facing a billion-dollar budget shortfall over the next several years.

"It is important to underline our commitment to high-quality public education options for Philadelphia families," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard. "But we have to do it in a way in which we can afford it."

MaST highlights the District's quandary.

A quick tour of the school shows why it's so popular: The shining facility boasts a state-of-the-art media center, computer labs everywhere you turn, and its own high-definition television studio.

MaST — which stands for Mathematics, Science, and Technology — also has impressive test scores, with 80 to 90 percent of students scoring proficient or above on state tests in both reading and math. In addition, the school has one of the highest graduation rates in Philadelphia.

And most important to parents such as Laura O'Toole, MaST goes from kindergarten through 12th grade, so getting a seat means not having to worry about school again until it comes time for college.

"My youngest is a firework," said O'Toole on her way into the lottery. "She's really advanced. I just feel that a charter school would offer more education."

But like the other hopeful parents on hand, O'Toole quickly found out how steep the odds against her were. Of the 104 available kindergarten seats, 62 were taken by siblings of current MaST students, who are given preference during the admissions process in accordance with state law.

That left more than 1,200 families competing for just 42 open seats, according to Swoyer, the school's CEO.

After the lucky names were read, a stream of dejected parents filed out the door.

O'Toole was one of many who signed petitions aimed at pressuring the School Reform Commission and Mayor Nutter to support MaST's expansion request.

"You can see by the number of people here that the need is there ... so I think it would absolutely benefit the kids to expand at a different site," she said.

Swoyer's hope is to open a 2,450-seat second campus, possibly on Roosevelt Boulevard. He'd like the school to focus on robotics and arts. Swoyer said he understands the District's financial position, but he argued that it's difficult to overstate the value of keeping committed families from fleeing the city in search of better schools.

"If you have a great model that works, I think you should definitely look to replicate it," he said.

District spokesman Gallard would not say how many total seats have been requested by charter schools. Gallard did say that 14 of the 16 charters up for renewal are seeking to expand. Six other charters have requested modifications to their existing charters.

"The state's current system of funding charters entails a net cost to the District," Gallard said. "At a time when we are in a very deep financial crisis, we will be looking very hard at what we can do this upcoming year with regard to expansion of quality seats."

Last year, the SRC approved a total of 5,416 new charter seats at an estimated cost of $139 million over five years.

Votes on this year's renewals, expansions, and modifications could begin as soon as April.


This story was reported through a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook.

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Comments (63)

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 20, 2013 6:39 pm
Additional: (1) You need to do a story on the number of applicants at the SDP's magnet schools. Since they don't hold a public lottery, there is not a lot of hoopla. Nevertheless, I'm sure some schools receive many applicants compared to the number of available "seats." (2) Will the move to a city wide application dramatically change the number of applicants? Parents / families may apply to as many charters as they want. If the city wide application limits, for example, parents/ families to 5 schools, the number of applicants for some charters might drop. (3) MaST is in an area of Philadelphia with packed School District schools. Does MaST only accept students from the Northeast or do they recruit city wide? (4) Where does MaST get funding for its state of the art facilities? (5) MaST's demographics are very different from other Northeast Philly schools. (e.g. compare its student population to Northeast HS, Lincoln HS, etc.) Why? (This is true of other charters like Performing Arts Charter in South Philly - it does not reflect the South Philly community. Yet, it was not only given additional "seats" for K-8 but a 1400 "seat" high school.)
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 20, 2013 7:39 pm
Great questions. Thanks for asking them Philly Parent and Teacher and I hope The Notebook writes about them!
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on March 20, 2013 10:52 pm

Great questions and points, PPT.  Let me see what I can do:

1. Would love to take a comprehensive look at magnet applicants/admissions, but haven't been able to do so yet.  Did however take a pretty comprehensive look last year at getting into Masterman, which you might find interesting:

2. I don't believe I've heard anything so far about limiting the number of schools a family can apply to as part of a universal enrollment system.  But it's a question we'll definitely monitor as that effort moves forward.

3. According to CEO John Swoyer, MaST received applications this year from families living in 46 different zipcodes.  However, many of the students are from the surrounding communities in the Far Northeast, according to Swoyer; he attributed this in large part to the heavy use of sibling preference in the school.

4. Swoyer attributed most of the attractions at MaST to effective financial management; he said the $8 million media center, eg, was financed in the bond market.  The school also does a fair amount of external fundraising, although I don't have numbers on that.

5. MaST is 72% white. Swoyer attributed that primarily to geography and sibling preference.  

Hope this is helpful. Thanks again for the questions and points.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 20, 2013 10:10 pm
If they received apps from 46 zip codes how do theyend up over 75%white? Lots of schools with sibling preference ont have that high a disparity.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 21, 2013 2:52 am
Thank you for the quick response. Just like there are many disappointed families following the lottery, there are many disappointed families after receiving the high school acceptance/rejection letters. This is an aspect of "school choice" that doesn't get much air time. (I know about the movie "The Lottery" but I have not seen it.) The response from the "pro-choice" proponents is to increase charter "seats" which obviously threatens School District budgets and potentially threatens the viability of School District schools. In Philadelphia, the School District began increasing the "seats" in "high achieving" schools last year. We will see if these schools maintain their test scores. Thank you also for MaST's explanation for their more than adequate funding and demographics. If charters have something to "share," I wish they would share their external funding networks. With groups like Philadelphia School Partnership disproportionately funding charters - and I'm using that term loosely - the Partnership is almost solely funding non-SDP schools - this will expand the economic inequity in the School District. MaST also has more families who can participate in their various fundraisers - the Far Northeast is much more affluent neighborhood than other Philly neighborhoods. As far as the rationale for the demographics, MaST should have demographics more akin to Northeast Philly schools - it obviously doesn't. Lastly, it would be interesting to read a story on "external funding" of both School District, charter and parochial schools. (I'd wait until the end of the school year since the Partnership is apparently going to give out more money. We'll see if they once again try to set the SRC agenda/priorities.) Yes, there are grants received by the School District (e.g. Department of Labor grant to a small group of neighborhood high schools, SIG, etc.) but what non-governmental sources are funding what types of schools, programs, etc. ? Why doesn't "Good Schools" and "The Partnership" provide avenues for ALL schools to access "external funding" rather than continue to have full power over which schools are getting millions?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 3:19 am
If you have a deeply held ideology that it is unfair for private donors to have any input into where they give their money and how it is used by the recipient, well don't be surprised that no private donors want to give you money. Donors want their gifts to have some positive impact. They want to help build a successful institution (regardless of whether they seek some credit/recognition). There are few donors who believe the SDP is a successful institution or has much hope of becoming one. The district simply can't promise that money will be used effectively. They have a lousy trackrecord. They are slow to act and are limited by their size, the bureaucracy, union contracts, internal politics and many other factors. There are public schools that are successful institutions unto themselves- obviously Masterman and the like, but others as well. They CAN raise signficant money independently. But then the SDP interests start crying about how this is so unfair. What if someone wanted to give $1mm, with part of it used to increase the salaries of Masterman teachers? Sorry, that violates our district-wide policy and contract. Keep your money. The ideology of the district dictates that it is better, fairer, for everyone to have $1 than for 80% to have $1 and 20% to have $2. So of course, everyone has $1 and they pat themselves on the back for acheiving equality. The point is that the district doesn't have donors because it doesn't want donors. Basically you want donors to give money and pay no attention to how it is used. Blind faith in the SDP. If I give $1 to a school, does the district just take a dollar out of their budget to make everything "fair"? But donors, whether an individual or foundation, find this idea that the SDP is uniquely qualified to manage money effectively laughable, and that they should have no input in what their money is used for insulting. When you talk to the leadership at the charters, you know they will use the money as they promise, that it will won't be wasted. That it will benefit kids that need it. I gave money to a charter school because a friend gave money and was on the board. He raised a lot of money for the school this way. I gave money to a Catholic school that was facing closure based on a appeal of an alumn I know. I give money to schools I attended. Not big amounts, a few thousand dollars. But there are thousands of people like me. I would give money directly to a neighborhood public school if I thought it would be used wisely. I can't see that it would. Anyway, that's a roundabout way of explaining why donors don't want to give money to the district unless it fundamentally changes- decentralizes and allows public schools real autonomy to develop as institutions.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 21, 2013 4:11 am
We both have an ideology. We obviously differ. You state "If you have a deeply held ideology that it is unfair for private donors to have any input into where they give their money and how it is used by the recipient, well don't be surprised that no private donors want to give you money." I also donate and am very selective. I support organizations that share my point of view and/or are advocating or supporting what I believe is just and equitable. Therefore, I think donors should know how their donations are spent. This should not limit donors from giving to public schools. Granted, charters and private/parochial schools do a much better job of seeking private funds. They often have development directors whose sole responsibility is to seek funds and coordinate fundraising. Be definition, public schools should receive public funding (e.g. tax dollars) to provide an equitable and more than adequate education for the public. The fact that public institutions like schools have to grovel for funding is the antithesis to what occurs in other wealthy countries. Yes, foundations may provide perks (e.g. nice playground, series of class trips, etc.) but foundation money should not create "haves" schools and "have not" schools. That said, NO private individual or organization, such as the flush foundations (Gates, Broad, Walton, etc.) NOR non-profits like the Phila. Foundation or the Phila School Partnership, should be able to influence public policy/funding. The current mode of operation with the Phila. Foundation attempting through the Boston Consulting Group and the Phila. School Partnership through its "funding priorities" to influence - and at times control - decisions by a public body - the SRC - is unethical if not illegal. The SRC is suppose to act in the best interest of the parents / families and students of the School District of Philadelphia - not the whims of granters. The current "granter and chief" - the Phila. Partnership - is acting in the interest of private entities and privatization supporters. This is no way to run a PUBLIC school system. Instead of funding its choices, the Partnership should fund ways to streamline the School District's bureaucracy and make it more efficient so more funds are available at the school level.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 21, 2013 8:52 am
The public should have had access to BCG's report. We were promised a summary of how the conclusions were reached (minus any proprietary methods), but I don't believe that ever was delivered. Did I miss it somewhere? The report is not necessarily the tool of a privatization agenda. We can't make that conclusion without actually seeing it. Streamlining might have been considered there, but might not have produced the required reduction in expenditures. The numbers (yes and where they came from) do matter. In support of Anonymous' statement, the SDP has had a huge grant, going on over 10 years now, with which to address the root causes of poverty and lack of family involvement in lack of achievement. That would be Title I, $150 million per year (for academic achievement alone, more Federal money given for other purposes) for over 10 years. How was all this money spent? The public needs to see each school's School Improvement Plan, which is supposed to reveal what Title I money is going to and why. Perhaps with this disclosure, more donors would be willing to help. Then again, seeing these may just confirm the fact that there is a lot of administrative bs going on. The truth at my former neighborhood school, was that this SIP was not taken seriously, and the purpose of the Title I money was subordinated to allow for administrative favors first. No ideology, just self service first.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 5:36 pm
That is an odd perspective- that everyone should not be able to influence public policy and funding. There is the first amendment. The union collectively get together to do this. Why shouldn't any other group of citizens? I pay far more in Philadelphia taxes to the school district than I can give charitably, so the notion that schools "have to grovel" for funds is absurd. In fact, I am sure if I didn't pay, someone would show up with a gun to collect the money (well maybe not for 20 years in Philly, but that's another story). I would be the one grovelling not the district. My point is that the district doesn't want private donors. The district wants more tax revenue where it is not accountable to the donor. Your example of the BCG is the best example foundations or wealthy people won't give to the Philly district or its public schools. Any good a foundation tries to accomplish is likely to offend some status quo interest group who will threaten and vilify the donor. Who wants that sort of grief when there are many other worthy recipients in the education sector who will make better use of the money.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on March 21, 2013 10:10 pm

The Notebook did a story and published a chart in fall 2011 about the number of applicants vs. slots at the magnet schools. Unfortunately, the District apparently gave us bad data, which we heard about from a number of schools. We ran a corrected chart from the District but again heard concerns that the numbers were not accurate. So we concluded it's something of a project to get valid data/odds for District schools and we were not able to undertake it in 2012.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 22, 2013 5:18 am
Thanks for the update. I don't know if the inability to get valid data is because of poor record keeping, disputed record keeping or an attempt to alter data. Unfortunately, this isn't unique to the School District. Harrisburg also has a history of playing with numbers as do charters.
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 20, 2013 7:37 pm
Yes, this is exactly the agenda all thinking people with a conscience were forecasting and YES, it is all by design. Separating the haves from the havenots is a very segregated and insidious way to go and is blatant anti democracy at work. It will be done on a giant scale, not like a magnet school here and there. This is Jim Crow 101 all over again but even worse because money designed for the poor, will be openly stolen and given to the rich. The necessary consequence will be the caste system I've mentioned here lots of times, dooming the poor to the prison system or very menial work at best. The "hope and change" goal ain't comin to Philly if this continues. I guess Nutter and even Obama, forgot to read the memo.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 4:49 am
Funny you talk about the rich stealing from schools. Concerned Parent above is talking about how it is unfair that the rich give to charter schools and not others. Now I am confused. Are the "rich" stealing or giving? Or are there two groups of rich people one stealing from the other? Can you point to an example of this in the real world? And where do the nefarious "hedge fund billionaires" fit into your conspiracy? Shouldn't they be fighting with you to maintain union monopoly since they earn their excessive compensation managing your massive pension funds? Both you and concerned parent seem to share the goal of eliminating charters and putting everyone back into a district run school (or in your Orwellian rhetoric, acheiving Democracy and justice by making everyone a have-not). If I were a real conspiracy theory nut, I might wonder if you were engaged in a full-time plot to dumb down the Philadelphia population enough to accept this sort of garbled nonsense. That conspiracy would be more credible than the idea that charter schools are a plot by Bill Gates to sell more Windows software or some "hedge fund billionaire" angling to "steal" from a charter school chain.
Submitted by tom-104 on March 21, 2013 7:00 am
If there is evidence of "conspiracy" you are not a nut, you are a realist because you are basing your perceptions on verifiable facts. Sometimes the truth is so close to you that you can miss the forest while looking at the trees. "Who is Eli Broad and why does he want to destroy public schools?"
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 5:09 pm
I guess if a conspiracy is a like minded group of people working together to improve educational outcomes, then there is a conspiracy. But why do you think so many liberals like Eli Broad or Bill Gates support school choice? Presumably you don't object with their stated goal of improving educational outcomes for poor children. You disagree with their analysis & conclusion on how best to acheive the goal. So what is the alternative? Is it more of the same bureaucratic top down mismanagement of every school by the district? Questioning the motives of the funders is a cop out. Basically all the objections of charters seem to boil down to people being upset that they threaten the central authority of district bureaucrats and unions. That is actually reactionary conservatism, which is why I think progressives like Eli Broad support reform and choice.
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 21, 2013 7:06 am
Hi--I'm confused too. I never mentioned hedge fund billionaires, Bill Gates or George Orwell but thanks for supporting my argument. Sometimes even paranoids are right. Look at the facts, just the facts, not your feelings.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 4:39 pm
I actually enjoy your rhetoric. But I think you have spoken of hedge fund billionaires. I do look at the facts, which is what the district was before charter schools. A messy failure. Just as segregated. And I think it is a fact, that all this rhetoric is really designed to obscure the real goal of forcing charter parents back into failing unaccountable schools.
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 21, 2013 5:38 pm
Sparky--I have no idea what you're talking about. The only saving grace is that you likely don't either. I'm old enough to see the real agenda at work here and I know firsthand how destructive it is. Either you don't see it or don't want to. If I really thought any of this "reform" movement was really about helping the poor, I would be all in but I know it isn't even remotely about that but rather making money for corporate America on the backs of the poor and that, if true, should worry all people of conscience.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 22, 2013 5:20 pm
How did you know my name was Sparky? I thought this was supposed to be anonymous.
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 22, 2013 10:50 pm
I narrowed it down to Rover and Sparky. Tried to cut you a break.
Submitted by center65 (not verified) on March 20, 2013 7:32 pm
I think it's also important to note that many parents enter multiple lotteries which inflates the interest in charters. The same occurs at magnet and special admit schools; kids apply to many schools so they have options and then narrow them down once they get accepted. I was thinking a lot today about school choice and what it means. I believe that students choose high schools today in the same way that students choose colleges. I teach at Bok Tech which is closing and the kids are in the process of applying to new high schools. I spoke with them about where they are going to go and wanted some insight on what is going on in heads. It was interesting to hear their perceptions of district schools and charter schools. They look at the school's reputation, demographics, test scores, facilities, etc, and make a decision. Charters have been much more successful in marketing their schools. In some ways many charters are superior to the district schools -- they have newer buildings, outside financial support, and lobbyists. I also think it's interesting how some charters market themselves on sports. I also coach and see how some charters actively recruit athletes to 'build a program.' Examples that I can think of offhand is Imhotep and Math Civics and Sciences Charter School. Kids want to go to schools who have a rep and who win. My lower performing kids are looking to go to schools with the shortest school day. The fashionably inclined want to go to schools without a dress code. One kids proclaimed, "I want to go to _______________ because they give everyone ipads!' I have some kids that are only interested in schools outside of their respective catchment area because they love the freedom of a transpass. (As a coach I don't like the kids that live far away because when we have a game or practice on the weekends, often I have to pay for tokens) What will happen is that the most talented kids will be spread around the city in special admits and charter schools, their test scores used to justify how great those schools are, and the other kids will go to Southern (which I must add is on the up and up!) The brain drain will hurt Southern and make neighborhood schools look worse, which will lead to a downward spiral. Ultimately it comes down to what do we do about the kids who don't actively pursue education. Someone needs to educate the neediest of students and while it is not sexy, doesn't look good on spreadsheets, and requires the most resources, it is absolutely necessary! The school district needs to do a better job in marketing their schools. I believe that there should be money for advertising to compete with charters as well as rules to even the playing field. I still can't understand why it is so hard for the district to engage in fundraising at the school and district level. It seems as though the district never misses and opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 21, 2013 3:48 am
FYI - Imhotep's recruitment of athletes may violate the so-called "blind lottery" required by charters. Last year, for example, when West Philly HS was slated for closure, Imhotep recruited their star football player. He went to Imhotep in March 2012. Did his "number" come up on the lottery? I doubt it. It was not coincidental. While I know some Philadelphia high schools - especially parochial and other private schools - have a history of recruiting athletes, charters are suppose to have a "blind lottery."
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 21, 2013 7:11 am
Philly Parent--Yes, I ran a school for delinquent kids and Glen Mills did exactly the same thing. When we played them, it was like playing the 6ers, well make that the Clippers of today.
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 20, 2013 8:44 pm
Center 65------------------You seem like an intelligent person with a great sense of decency. The charter folks--for the most part---are diametrically opposed to that line of thinking. I know 4 operators personally whom I wouldn't trust to help an old blind woman cross the street. I have been asked to partner with 3 of them and all they could talk about was the easy money now available to the corporate world, of which charters are, no pun intended, charter members. The skinny is unless the political landscape changes, this hostile takeover in the inner cities, will doom the poor and especially the poor people of color, even more than they already are. The playing field will never be even and that's by design too. The real schools are being starved and the corporate charters are being propped up regardless of the blatant corruption so evident to all. Big money, easy and abundant, is now calling the shots in urban America. That's not to hold the School District blameless for the reasons you state but no matter what they do, it won't and can't be enough to balance the field. By the way, this happens to still be the USA where real Public Education is a right.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 9:30 am
Joe, the facts are that the vast majority of charters do not have access to corporate or outside funding. There are a few that do get this support and they not only make it difficult for district schools, but for regular charters. For a charter that is not part of a management group or supported by wealthy funders, there is little room for padded funds. That is if the charter spends resources on adequate staffing, sound building, technology, supports for students, and the other items that are needed to truly run a school. Inaccurate information and blind generalizations give the small minority of corporate charters a pass, while vilifying charters trying to get it right. It also takes the target away from real funding issues that hurt district and charter schools. When you look beyond the propaganda, you find that those who fund anti-charter groups belong to the same country club as those who fund corporate charters.
Submitted by rob (not verified) on March 21, 2013 10:47 am
can you name a charter school that does not solicit outside money? Every charter I know has a section on their website where one can donate money
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 4:13 pm
Grant writing and fundraising are tremendously different from corporate sponsorship and private funding. Your refusal to acknowledge the fact that your broad generalizations are not factual is disappointing. Perhaps Ben or another Notebook staffer could clarify whether the Notebook's description as a voice for parents, educators, students and friends of Philadelphia Public Schools only relates to School District schools. If so, the accusation of trolling is correct. If, however, the Notebook supports all Philadelphia public schools, my readership and comments are just a valid and worthy as anyone else.
Submitted by Rob (not verified) on March 21, 2013 10:49 pm
The PSP is neither a parent,educator, student, nor a friend of Philadelphia public schools. Listening to the testimony of Mark Gleason at the hearing at City Hall and his lone support for school closings on 3/7 SRC meeting is evidence. Private grants under the guise of 'reform' is the Citizens United of education
Submitted by Tara (not verified) on March 21, 2013 10:32 pm
I worked for a charter school and they sold naming rights to everything - chairs, tables, offices, classrooms, shelves in the library. Everything, and I mean, everything, was for sale. It was crazy!
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on March 21, 2013 10:22 am
Then there are local charters who are under indictment or have already been prosecuted...
Submitted by tom-104 on March 21, 2013 10:10 am
You obviously have not read "Who is Eli Broad and why does he want to destroy public education"
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on March 21, 2013 12:52 pm
Tom 104--I think that duded was trolling. No rational person can really think that charters are not funded from outside. It's just too silly to which to respond.
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 21, 2013 3:16 pm
Yes, the facts according to Fox News, maybe. Talking Points 101. Damn the real facts, make up your own and scream them loud and long.
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 20, 2013 8:21 pm
Concerned 65---I forgot--getting old. Please don't list Imhotep in any positive vein. Based on the cheating scandal of a couple years ago, their continued existence speaks volumes about the corruption I mentioned earlier.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 20, 2013 9:47 pm
MaST serves only 35% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. You can only access their application online-major barrier. Usually the Notebook does a better job of presenting the whole picture.
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 20, 2013 9:15 pm
I felt that way too.
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on March 20, 2013 10:42 pm

Thanks for the points, Anonymous.

Please see comment above re: MaST's racial composition and low-income student population.

As far as I know, MaST was not flagged for barriers to entry in the review conducted by the District's Charter Office, reported on by NewsWorks and the Notebook last year:




Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 20, 2013 10:53 pm
Ben, that link posted in a weird format. The link did not work when I pasted it. But, if that's in reference to the barriers from last year, that document analyzed the 30 or so schools up for renewal last year--not this year.
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on March 20, 2013 11:34 pm

Good point, Anonymous.  Will definitely have to pay close attention to this year's renewal process to see if any additional schools are deemed to have barriers to entry.  Thank you for pointing that out.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 10:34 am
Somebody please tell us: What is a high-performing seat? I don't know what it is except a rationale to close certain schools, give money to certain schools, turnaround certain schools and give away certain schools. And those who decide which schools they are make those decisions behind closed doors. Phily P & T is right. It is dangerous to let the PSP dispense money according to the ideology of their board members. Of the millions they have funneled from the Penn Foundation, almost all has gone to charters. Powell Elemtary is the only public school which has benefited from their munificence. The SRC has a responsibility to see that schools are funded equitably. Of course, they meet regularly with the PSP and the Great School Compact Committee--which have melded into one entity. Only James Roebuck seems to trying to stop this. Lisa Haver
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 2:01 pm
Lisa--Please stop using words I have to google. James Roebuck is my new hero. Yes, I googled "high performing seat" but nothing came up. It might be an empty seat, painted nicely that defines itself as high performing. Charters have a tendency to handle all things intramurally with no transparency nor, of course, accountability so they can define anything they want however they want. It must be nice to get away with that but the crooked pols support it.
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on March 21, 2013 3:37 pm
Lisa--This is Joe, not anonymous. My bad--computer skills again.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 9:55 pm
Hi, Joe. No problem. Lisa
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 3:59 pm
ALERT There is an SRC meeting tonight at 440. On the agenda is a presentation on the "Restructuring" of Head Start. In other words, outsourcing. If you can get there, please go. Even if you have not signed up to speak, you may have an opportunity to do so, especially if the speaker's list is short. I only know of one person who has ECE experience who will be there. We need to stop this. Remember that they want the right to outsource ANY position. Lisa
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 21, 2013 4:51 pm
There are 50+ people on the speakers list.
Submitted by ms pat (not verified) on March 21, 2013 9:12 pm
Why won't the SRC offer "quality" seats in neighborhood schools? Isn't that what they were commissioned to do? I don't understand why the SRC talks about the district as if it mismanaged itself
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 22, 2013 5:00 pm
MaST has sibling preference. That is one reason parents pick it over the district. In the Penn Alexander lottery, the district refused to allow sibling preference. So anyone who has two kids has to win the lottery twice or you would have to split your efforts between two schools, deal with the logistics of two schools, the nagging thought that one kid was shortchanged. This is an example of a stupid district policy based on some idiots flawed definition of "fairness". It is bad for the schools, bad for the parents, and bad for the city. But no one at the district cares. I have two young kids and would consider districts schools, but only if there is sibling preference- I would rather move to the suburbs than have one kid get into a good school I liked and have the other forced somewhere else. I love the city and pay lots of taxes. But if the district thinks sibiling preference in a lottery is unfair, it explains a lot about why people run away from their schools to charters when given the first opportunity. It is not a conspiracy- it is the districts fault. The irony is that I I'm supposed to benefit from this policy since I have better odds at a lottery. I guess if I were a negligent parent, that would make sense. In reality, no sibling preference is a bias against anyone with more than 1 kid. Apparently fairness only applies to those the district wants it to apply to.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on March 23, 2013 5:46 pm
Sibling preference is a no-brainer for neighborhood schools. It's standard practice. Logistically, it just makes sense. I went to Catholic elementary school and that school used sibling preference so long as the parents were active, participating parishioners. What is the sibling preference policy in District neighborhood elementary schools besides Penn Alexander? Penn Alexander is in the minority in that it has caps on kindergarten class size. If it's a neighborhood school, PAS should be taking every eligible child so long as the classrooms and building do not exceed capacity. When I say capacity, I mean the capacity that is permissible from the standpoint of the Fire Department. The caps on class size at Penn Alexander make it a manufactured crisis. Kids from poor neighborhoods are attending kindergarten with more than 20 kids. Kids from a wealthier neighborhood in the city can surely attend Kindergarten with more than 20 kids. Obviously, there should be fewer kids in Kindergarten, but that's not feasible right now. Why doesn't PAS just put an extra teacher in the kindergarten class with more kids? EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 24, 2013 3:59 pm
I assume the district wide policy is no sibling preference, but don't know for sure. Though that would be even more ridiculous to make that exception for pa. Like I said, have no kids in school yet, so I'm not trying to protect some position. I'd rather have lower odds and a well run school for the neighborhood. This sort of malevolent stupidity by the bureaucracy is turning me off to all district schools. I am sure there are MANY policies this thoughtless I don't even know about yet. Why subject my kids to an education system run by the stupid and uncaring?They really do everything possible to drive potential supporters away. Everyone here from the district just complains about charters money, etc. but seems to care nothing for changing their anti-parent policies. I feel the attitude, 'you don't like it? Well too bad. I have more important things to worry about.'
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 24, 2013 5:28 pm
Penn Alexander is the exception to everything - funding, class size, amenities, etc. Since enrollment within a catchment is not an issue at most schools, I assume there is sibling preference. (Check on Meredith, Greenfield, etc.) Re: not caring - I find this mostly coming from 440 (School District). Most school staff try to work with parents - we certainly do at my school.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on March 24, 2013 6:17 pm
Anonymous, you wrote that "I'd rather have lower odds and a well run school for the neighborhood." Amen! The importance of neighborhood schools cannot be overlooked. A symbiotic relationship exists between a high-quality neighborhood school and the neighborhood it serves --- the community strengthens the school and the school strengthens the neighborhood. Neighborhood schools do this, whether they be public, charter, or parochial. However, a public neighborhood school allows for more public say in the school's governance than a charter in most cases, especially since charter management organizations typically run neighborhood charters (Renaissance Schools). Quality neighborhood schools promote stability in a neighborhood's residents, which is important for any healthy neighborhood. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 25, 2013 4:47 am
Don't know why you think the public has less say on governance at the district than a charter. Maybe in theory, but in reality, the opposite seems true. What is a parent really going to do about governance in the district? Even without the SRC with pure local control, they would stand 0 chance fighting the entrenched bureaucracy here. Parents come and go but the bureaucracy and its (dysfunctional) internal politics can stay the same. If the options are to fight the bureaucracy or leave, most of those with the resources to fight will leave. I guess the bureaucrats know this dynamic and find it to be not a bad thing. A chain charter probably has some bureaucracy too, but it isn't as big and can't be as stagnant as the district. And the charters have a culture that cares about attracting parents, something that seems the opposite of the districts culture. Splitting families, not splitting families. Who cares, PA is still a decent school. So what, only parents of single children will send their kids there. Everyone else can find another school and stop complaining- that is the districts attitude. I think the bureaucrats will find that the highly educated parents (with more than 1 child) who are active and have the resources to do private or suburban schools will be the first to opt out of this stupid system entirely, rather than subject their families to this ineptness. Given 10 years, I would not be surprised if PA was no longer a strong performer or sought after school. Would anyone in the bureaucracy even care? Certainly they will never accept any responsibility.
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on March 25, 2013 6:57 am
Some District schools have a lot of autonomy - Penn Alexander is one of them. Besides the School District, the Univ. of Penn plays a role in what happens at the school. (Remember, the parents who demonstrated did it at Penn - not the School District.) I doubt your prediction of doom and gloom will occur. Penn Alexander will probably change to sibling preference. Chain charter have an ever growing bureaucracy - just look at Mastery and compare number of administrators - whether in a school - or at their headquarters. Universal also has a large non-teaching staff. I don't like bureaucracies - and the School District has created a system of layers few can match - but, as I wrote, some magnet schools and schools like Penn Alexander are not under the thumb of a downtown bureaucrat.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 25, 2013 9:29 am
The original rationale of charter schools was to break apart from "the bureaucracy" and create innovative schools that were to be run and led by teachers and/or local communities. The Charter School Law was never intended to create new "privatized bureaucracies" with no accountability to anyone. What, I believe, we can come to consensus on is that "bureaucratic governance" is the worst form of school governance. It has succeeded nowhere and in no form. There is an excellent researcher, Martin Haberman, from Milwaukee who studied successful urban schools and their leaders for over 40 years. He concluded that effective urban schools were those which found ways to "insulate themselves" from what he terms "the bureaucracy." Haberman's book in which he explains that phenomenon is "Star Principals Serving Children in Poverty." His research is every bit as valid for all schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 26, 2013 3:03 am
Interesting points. I will look into Haberman- agree that effective schools need to insulate themselves and develop their own institutional capacity. I've read many of your thought-provoking posts and (maybe incorrectly) have the impression that you are a union activist. I am curious how you (and Haberman) addresses the issue of union contracts- basically the union contract IS a central bureaucracy in regards to all labor issues. Or rather the central bureaucracy is necessary to enforce the union contract. How do you have a single district wide union employment contract that governs work rules, assignment, promotion, pay scales and benefits, resource availability without having a large centrally controlled bureaucracy (the sort that never works effectively in practice) that dictates detailed rules down to the school level? This is my biggest beef with the unions in large urban districts- the bureaucracy and the unions are the same ,intertwined, mutually dependent and ultimately counter-productive. The union obviously enjoys the leverage of bargaining with one big dumb entity than negotiating with many autonomous or semi-autonomous schools. The union can not exist in its current form without this central bureaucracy. This also explains why unions in suburban districts, while still securing generous deals for teachers, do not earn the perception of contributing to ineffectiveness that so many people now have of urban unions. It isn't anything against teachers, but the fact that you is hopelessly intertwined with this incompetent bureaucracy and has been throughout its history. Of course, teachers need even more protection against an incompetent bureaucracy. Which leads to a downward spiral of more bureaucracy, more union protections, more militancy, lower morale, etc. There is a different model, maybe sets some very broad parameters on pay at a district level to prevent labor cost competition between schools, but leaves all the rules to be negotiated with the individual schools.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 26, 2013 8:13 am
It is interesting that you would perceive me as a union activist. I am not. I am a researcher and author on school governance and leadership and an advocate for the best practices in both leadership and governance of schools. I am a retired 34 year veteran (teacher and administrator) of the School District of Philadelphia who is also an attorney with a private practice in the area of civil rights. Ever since the state takeover of our schools and the imposition of the SRC and, in turn, Paul Vallas, I have intensively studied the law, the processes, and the effects of the takeover, charterization, and privatization of our public schools. When I was at University City High School (prior to Paul Vallas's destruction of that school) "We" started one of the first "charters" in the nation. It was called the "Law Charter." Charters were originally conceived as independent "schools within schools." If you read Diane Ravitch's book, she traces the history of charter schools and explains their original rationale. Charters were originally about 'insulation from the bureaucracy" so they could become 'incubators of innovation and research" led by teachers and local school communities. We never envisioned that charter schools would turn into "chains of private organizations" for our public schools to be "turned over" to them. In my book, Whose School Is It? the Democratic Imperative for Our Schools, there is a chapter entitled "Our Unions & Their Potential Greatness." The Unions are not "the axis of evil" in all of this as they are made out to be. Both CASA and the PFT have always been flexible and accommodating to any proposal which would lead to a better education for our children. The vast majority of teachers and administrators are absolutely wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to our children and Our School District. All they want is "basic fairness." Back in the day all we ever argued over was, how to teach children the best way and how we could create programs to meet their specific needs. Now it seems all we argue over is, who is going to gain power, control and profit from our schools. Very little of what you see unfolding before us is about the best interests of our children and how to serve them better. The Hope for our schoolchildren lies in the bright young minds who choose to stay in our district in spite of the lunacy that surrounds them and who are out there advocating for change towards a "collaborative culture," without which there will be no Greatness in our schools. Every citizen should be concerned about what is happening as it affects all stakeholders' rights in schools. It also goes to the very heart of American democracy and what we are as a nation and a local school community. If we are to survive as a democracy and continue to lead the world, I submit that, we need a vibrant "public education system" which actually does serve -- "the common good."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 27, 2013 4:43 am
So you are not the famous jockey then? I do appreciate your writing and efforts. Mostly, I love Philadelphia and want it to thrive. Now I am facing these decisions with young children. Schools should be the city's greatest asset. But instead, they are one of the biggest liabilities, historically a big factor driving people away. It shouldn't be this way. There are few areas where the cities density and distance matter as much as education. Businesses used to be located in a city center to trade- that is the basis of the city (Jane Jacobs). In a global interconnected world, trade doesn't need to be physically located at a central market, or in the city. This is one reason Philly has hemoraged jobs (except for bars & restaurants) over the decades. A city like Philly with high density can support more schools, more educational options within an acceptable distance. But to benefit from the cities essence, its density, we need real choice, not red apples, green apples and rottten apples of indeterminate color. I just don't believe a large centralized bureaucracy, even if well intentioned and well run (and in Philly neither is a realistic assumption), will deliver a full array of quality options, allow the independence required for local schools to flourish as autonomous institutions. I am always a bit surprised that someone with your experience working in such a bureaucracy believes it is possible to make that work. Maybe I should read your book!
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 27, 2013 7:07 am
I do not believe that any large bureaucracy can provide efficient and moral school governance unless it is thoughtfully broken down into schools with "balanced autonomy" with collaborative, ultimately democratic leadership. I discuss all of the different ways schools can be governed and the rationales for each along with a discussion of the research on effective leadership. There is a chapter in my book entitled "The Inherent Immorality of Bureaucracy" wherein I discuss the "institutional illnesses" inherent in bureaucracies, and inherent in our district. I explain how, our School District has become an "unhealthy organization" with a toxic organizational climate. Much of the vitriol which has periodically emerged on this website is a "symptom" of the toxicity of our School District. While we are speaking of the work of Martin Haberman, the most important concepts I drew from his research is his notions of "the collective vision," the "common mission" and the collective "commitment to task." The common denominator of all Great schools is that they function as Great school communities. Great leaders build community by building positive relationships with followers, not destroying them.
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on March 25, 2013 6:58 am
Some District schools have a lot of autonomy - Penn Alexander is one of them. Besides the School District, the Univ. of Penn plays a role in what happens at the school. (Remember, the parents who demonstrated did it at Penn - not the School District.) I doubt your prediction of doom and gloom will occur. Penn Alexander will probably change to sibling preference. Chain charter have an ever growing bureaucracy - just look at Mastery and compare number of administrators - whether in a school - or at their headquarters. Universal also has a large non-teaching staff. I don't like bureaucracies - and the School District has created a system of layers few can match - but, as I wrote, some magnet schools and schools like Penn Alexander are not under the thumb of a downtown bureaucrat.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 23, 2013 1:46 am
How come nobody is mentioning the "charter dump" that happens about this time each year? The money that follows a child to charter schools stay at the school as long as the kid is there past october 31. Around January till PSSA time they start dumping any disciplinary problem kids, failing kids, and special needs kids back into the district coffers and the money stays at the charter school. So now the district has to find a spot for this child and no money to help offset his education. Charters do this yearly, do they get more money and less kids. Plus why are cyber charters funded equally as traditional schools when they do not have the overhead that brick and morter schools have-maintenence, electricity, water etc?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on March 23, 2013 5:13 pm
My understanding was that a student's test scores count for the school if they are enrolled there in October. If I'm wrong, please correct me and direct me to a source explaining which school receives credit for a student's test scores. EGS
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on March 23, 2013 5:49 pm
I would also like to know exactly who "counts" in a school for the purposes of test participation, graduation and AYP. In neighborhood schools, a student from the "catchment" who is in "special placement" (detention center to discipline school to any "alternative" program) is counted for the purposes of AYP for the neighborhood school. This primarily impacts high schools and only high schools in cities with multiple high schools (Philly and Pittsburgh). Each year we have students on our list who may have never stepped foot in the school but are counted because they have an address in the "catchment." (We may also have students who only attended a few month or haven't attended in a few years.) This never impacts special admit or charter schools since they do not have a "catchment."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 26, 2013 10:50 am
Each student's test scores are attributed to their enrollment on the PIMS student data report due in October. Student participation is calculated by the first Friday of each testing window. It would support the participation score if a school chose to jettison a chronically truant student right before the testing window. Those are probably the students traditional public schools are seeing enrolled just before testing.

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